A week of demonstrations and humanitarian efforts
Late March and early April brought a wave of bombings in Israeli cities, a brutal reoccupation of Ramallah, Sharon's "isolation" of Yassir Arafat, and a general call-up of 30,000 Israeli army reservists, in order to reoccupy all Palestinian towns. The situation in the region was rapidly deteriorating and NSWAS residents, both Arabs and Jews, felt they could not remain silent. General Secretary Anwar Dawod submits the following journal of activities in which he and many other members of the community took part.
The Eve of Land Day, March 29.
The Pluralistic Spiritual Centre initiated a welcome discussion of members, after a broader program was cancelled due to the incidence of Passover and Easter. Then, after Sharon and Ben Eliezer reoccupied Ramallah, many members approached me with the request to cancel the event.
After urgent conferring, we decided that we would, after all, hold a discussion and speak about the current situation in the region, rather than about Land Day itself. About 30 people from the village took part, most from NSWAS, with others who were parents from the School or from the surrounding area. It was inspiring to see the participation of many young people in the event. A fuller report will follow.
Land Day, March 30.
Several members took part in a demarcation campaign for ruined Arab villages, which was arranged by a group with which NSWAS has associations. The campaign took place on Land Day. The specific activity in which some of the members took part involved making signs for 'Mikseh' village, from which NSWAS member Eyas Shbeta originally came. The village was located between the still existing villages of Saba and Tira.
About six members left NSWAS in the direction of the Elaragiv village, in which the main rally was planned for Land Day by the Arab National Monitoring Committee.
The village of Elaragib is an unrecognised Bedouin Village about two kilometres south of Rahat. The fields where the rally took place were sprayed a month ago by crop dusters with the intention of destroying the wheat crop of the Bedouin Arab residents, as part of an effort to deprive them of arable land. The damage was clearly visible. About 5,000 people took part in the rally.
A large demonstration initiated by the signers of a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Anan took place outside Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv. Many of the village residents took part.
During the demonstration several demonstrators blocked the entry to the Ministry for about ten minutes as a protest against the blocking of roads into the Palestinian Autonomy.
Sunday, March 31.
I took part in a rally of the Arab National Monitoring Committee in which the Taayush Movement participated, together with about 50 demonstrators from the European Peace Delegation. The rally began opposite the Prime Minister's Office and afterwards we marched to the Kalandiya checkpoint, on the outskirts of Ramallah. Our intention was to break the closure on Ramallah. During the entire morning, Arab Knesset Members were updated stage by stage on what was happening at PA chairman Arafat's offices: a tear gas explosion, an attempt to penetrate the dining room via the ceiling, exchange of fire between the PA guards and the army, the wounding of two guards and the impossibility of evacuating them for medical care, the army moving from room to room in the Ramallah Hospital after employees tried to physically block the entry of the soldiers. All of these facts were heard live by the demonstrators, several minutes before they became news headlines.
At the Kalandiya checkpoint we were requested by the organisers to await instructions. In the process of a sharp altercation between demonstrators and soldiers manning the checkpoint, a man arrived and shouted, "We have a woman about to give birth, and I need assistance - the soldiers are not letting us through." Foolishly I joined others in suggesting that he turn the car around and go in the direction of the Mukassad Hospital in Jerusalem. The woman dismissed this idea with impatience: "We have Palestinian identity cards and live between the Jerusalem and Kalandiya checkpoints. One checkpoint does not allow us go through to Ramallah and the other that doesn't allow us into Jerusalem."
The story had a happy end. With the intervention of the Knesset Members, the army was persuaded to let the woman pass through to Ramallah.
In the meantime, the army managed to produce an order of 'closed military area' for up to 4.4 kilometres from Ramallah, which meant that our entry was denied, and hence entry of the Arab MKs too (later we understood that members of the European Parliament did manage to get through.)
The way back from the Kalandiya checkpoint to Shu'afat - a stretch of road that normally would take 20 minutes to cover, took us two and a half hours. When I arrived at NSWAS I felt almost choked. In my head hummed many questions:
What would the baby be named?
How would (s)he behave on hearing this story?
What would have happened if MKs Mohammad Baraka, Ahmad Tibi and Taleb Assana had not been there?
If I was the husband of this woman, would I try to break through the checkpoint and run down whoever tried to block my way?
What happens to the spirits of Palestinians who need to pass through this obstacle path from Kalandiya to Shu'afat everyday?
Tuesday, April 2
Rita Boulos quickly got together a party of 17 persons Jewish and Arab village residents to give blood at the Mukassad hospital in Jerusalem. As agreed with the director there, the blood will be transferred to hospitals in Ramallah.
The same day, Adnan Mana made a collection in the village to buy badly needed medical equipment for Ramallah hospitals. The sum collected will be added to a fund already established from monthly contributions of NSWAS employees, so that he will have about NIS 15,000 at his disposal to purchase the equipment, which he have delivered directly.
Wednesday, April 3
About half of the village residents took part in what was intended to be a march from the El-Ram to the Kalandiya checkpoints on the Jerusalem - Ramallah Road, in order to deliver supplies to the besieged population and hospitals of Ramallah. The march and delivery of supplies was sponsored by a number of women's and peace organisations.
Four to five thousand demonstrators, led by women wearing white, as a symbol of peace and non-violence, left the streets in Beit Hanina towards the checkpoint. The Arab and Jewish activists came from all around the country as well as the immediate area. They carried posters bearing slogans against the war and the occupation and called for a two state solution of the conflict.
At the El-Ram checkpoint the marchers were stopped by the army. The large crowd waited there for the delivery of the six truck loads of supplies.
After we had been there for a short time, we were confronted by a sudden volley of tear gas grenades from the checkpoint. The attack happened without warning, and the tear gas was aimed towards the centre of the crowd. The marchers fled back as gas spread over the entire street before the checkpoint. Women were particularly affected by the tear gas, since by prior arrangement they had been closest to the checkpoints.
After this first volley, we congregated again before the barricades, and continued to wait until the first truck with supplies could reach the checkpoint. After about an hour, the army fired a second volley of tear gas, which again caught everyone by surprise and caused us to flee back up the street. This was closely followed by a third volley of gas and, this time, stun grenades. Into the crowd emerged a large number of border police with truncheons who ran in all directions beating people (even those who were attempting to flee). This constituted the end of the march. Later, we were encouraged to hear that some of the supply trucks had got through the checkpoints and were moving towards Ramallah.
When we arrived back at the busses, we discovered with relief that no one from the village had been injured. Rita was overcome with the tear gas and found refuge in a Palestinian house close by, Nihaya, Dafna, Dorit and I had also been affected by the gas, which was quite strong. (For several minutes I was almost unable to breathe or open my eyes.) Gideon had been hit by a stun grenade, and Howard had been struck by a truncheon, but they were unharmed.
Later I received phone calls and know that about 20 people, including Knesset Member Mohammad Barakeh, and Nazareth mayor Ramez Jarrisse were less fortunate and had to receive treatment in hospital. Three demonstrators were arrested!
All of our members emerged from the demonstration with high morale, but with the clear observation that that if this is how the security forces deal with nonviolent Israeli peace activists, one can only imagine how they act as an occupying force.
Thursday, April 4
Several village residents took part in a rally on the beach promenade opposite the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, which was called by the Arab National Monitoring Committee. Village members carried signs with the logo "Peace is Possible" and with the intention of conveying that the Palestinians require international protection, and that without intervention, especially from the United States, it is unlikely that there will be any progress in stopping the violence and returning to negotiations. This demonstration too did not pass peacefully. When members of the National Monitoring Committee refused orders to lower Palestinian flags, they were charged by police on horseback and beaten with batons. (Israeli state TV noted in its report on the rally that there is in fact no clear statute against flying the Palestinian flag in Israel).
No one from the village was seriously hurt.*
* yet, after publishing this, it was discovered that a knee injury sustained by Rita during the rally has turned out to be more serious and persistent than at first suspected.
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